But what happens when you unintentionally bring a whole load of sociological theory with you on an impromptu pub crawl?
Having recently begun the journey across the bridge to academic life, much of my time has been spent reading journal articles, seminal texts and weighty volumes. I decided some recreational down-time was deserved and arranged to catch up with some friends. And so this sociological adventure took shape.
Unknown to me theory has a strange way of materializing even when one is not theorising. As I caught up with my two friends, inadvertently my studies surfaced in conversation. I attempted upsell my research idea and make it sound both applicable and sensible. Discussing masculinity with other men is an interesting undertaking and one that can be met with scepticism and anxiety. My friends held out, anxiety tempered and minimal scepticism. None-the-less the flood gate of banter was opened and my little brown leather college bag became fodder for my friend’s cannons. My ‘man bag’ became a running comic theme throughout the night.
What eventually unfolded from a simple catch up was an impromptu pub crawl, very sensible mind you, but none-the-less a pub crawl. In total we frequented six public houses and upon reflection each offered its own Petrie dish of masculinity.
Our first watering hole was a sports bar, which I have dubbed the Sporty Flamingo. The Sporty Flamingo is a newly opened sports bar, aimed at sport crazed young men, of whom there were many in large groups. Its décor oozes maleness; high bar stools positioned in front of giant plasma screens, coloured under lighting, leather upholstery, earthy colour scheme and carbohydrate laden bar menu. This bar was just short of having ‘hegemonic masculinity draft served here’ printed on its bar mats.
As our conversation wandered so did we, my ‘man bag’ filled the conversational void from one place to the next and I rolled
with the playful taunts and jibes. Being a man requires being able to take taunts and jibes, the hegemonic masculine ideal tells us so. Eventually we arrived at our next destination, The Timid Lamb, a stark comparison to the Sporty Flamingo. The
Timid Lamb, a long established pubic house provides an atmosphere of maturation and grit. Its walls are adorned with republican imagery, male film icons and proudly displayed signed images of male boxing heroes. Its clientele are more distilled in years, hardened and in comparison to the young men from The Sporty Flamingo; the men in The Timid Lamb were lone wolves randomly scattered throughout. These men appeared to be uninterested by each other, rather sharing silent reflection with their glass of choice. My friends and I were out of place in The Timid Lamb; we played pool, commented on the beautiful sea views and decided to take our thirst elsewhere.
As we rambled an open door presented and so we entered The Sour Grape. This was an eclectic spot with matching patrons.
There were groups of young men, groups of young women, couples, a few lone individuals and our small motley crew. Its décor was artistic, flamboyant and bold, a haven for the metro-sexual masculine type. As it happened it was my turn to empty my pockets and so I enquired as to the extent of their craft beers. The bar maid encouragingly recommended a ‘light and frothy beer that is refreshing with a slight hint of lemon’. I was intrigued. After consulting with my friends only one was sold on the bar maid’s recommendation. I ordered two pints of the recommended brew, which were presented in their own branded glasses to which the bar maid said ‘now there’s two manly glasses for you!’.
With my masculinity affirmed and augmented by two glass tankards, I returned to my friends. The bar maids remark made me smile and reflect upon my own research questions. Her passing comment verified for me the way in which the pub and indeed alcohol permits men to acquire and accomplish a certain masculine status. By offering males ‘manly glasses’
symbolically provides a means of publically asserting ones masculinity and reaffirming it. Indeed the glasses were large and handful in fact (I struggled with them!). My friends and I were amused by these tankards; however, our amusement was replaced by a shared unease upon the discovery of a toilet attendant. The Sour Grape not only provides food and fine ales but for a small donation you can avail of complementary use of aftershaves, deodorants and refreshing mints, all available from a toilet attendant in the men’s room.
This toilet attendant became the subject of much of our conversation and my friend’s expressed their unease and mild horror of having someone watch over them in the men’s room. This attendant and his services offered did not fit with their concept of a ‘men’s room’. The men’s room in their view was a sacred and private space, not to be intruded upon by an observer. The
attendant’s surveillance and imposition into this private space was uncomfortable to my friends and to be honest, me too.
According to my friends, men did not want to be handed tissue to dry their hands by another man, men were supposed to give their hands a good shake dry or a rub in the jeans, perfect. Nor, according to my friends did men want to be asked ‘alright boss?’ and presented with a bottle of ‘Eau de toilette’ to dowse in, this in their opinion did not just boarder on but crossed the line into femininity. So before the next call of nature was necessary a unanimous decision was made to take our patronage elsewhere.
We frequented two more separate establishments on our unexpected journey, each offering their own unique atmosphere and cause for reflection. The ‘man bag’ jokes continued as we wandered. Eventually we passed ‘an old man’s pub’ and one my friends confessed a longstanding wish to see what The Smelly Mosher had to offer. And so like a scene from a western movie, the Mosher’s patrons all turned on their bar stools to see three strangers enter their sacred domain. Entering the ‘Smelly
Mosher’ was like entering a time capsule to the past and provided an opportunity to experience a masculine domain that is antiquated and obscure. The Smelly Mosher was indeed a smelly space. The bar man was a friendly gent who attended courteously to his patrons. We sipped on our pints of Guinness and tried to take this strange place in with our eyes.
The Smelly Mosher despite having large plasma displaying the ‘Late Late Show’ did not have a cash register, much to our surprise. Alternatively the bar man used a shelf behind the bar where his takings were casually strewn in full public view.
A cash register was not all that was absent here. There was a distinct absence of women.
As we adjusted to the ambience of the Smelly Mosher, we observed the other men present. They were senior gentlemen, large in stature, who conducted themselves with authority and confidence. There was a notable yet discreet code operating; tone of voice was low, deep and hushed, body language was restrained and the men gave each other space. Eye contact was fleeting and from sideward glances. This place was very definitely a man’s space, there were no women present and should there have been; they might not have been pleased to discover there were no ladies toilets in the Smelly Mosher. There was a ‘Gents’ as indicated by the unambiguous sign but no ‘Ladies’. This made for more interesting conversation. Interestingly, it appeared we had been welcomed into the Smelly Mosher as was evidenced when we realized we were being included in a ‘lock in’. Although pleased at such inclusion, we did not feel we belonged, this masculine domain was as severe and acute to us as the smell that perpetuated there, and so we made our thankful apologies. We were kindly directed through a door
way, which brought us into a corridor, where we directed ourselves outside.
In the crisp fresh air we breathed in deeply and were silent for a time.
What amazed me from my unexpected journey was, firstly; the diversity of pubs within such a small geographic location and, secondly; the multiplicity of masculinities that presented in these environments. Surely the pub offers a sociologist a primary laboratory to study masculinity. In addition, it would be hard not to acknowledge the inter linkage between masculinity and these physical environments. Each of these individual pubs appeared to accommodate or in-fact were assembled around a
distinct construction of masculinity. All of these six pubs were distilling and selling their own brand of masculinity, albeit young or old, traditional or emerging, hetero or metro, dominant or subordinate, and so on. Not only do pubs allow for the consumption of alcohol, they also allow for the drinking down of masculinities.
© Clay Darcy October, 2013.